Mystery benches appear in front of Ann Arbor storefronts

A bench that reads "The Butt Stops Here" outside Bookbound Bookstore on June 7, 2021. (Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR – Last week, business owners across Ann Arbor noticed that benches with humorous one-liners printed on them were dropped outside their storefronts.

At first, many thought it was an intentional move by a landlord or that someone else in the shop or restaurant was responsible. But as they began talking, they all began asking: who did this -- and why?

The benches are actually quite fun, with some saying “Sit Happens” and “Everyone Sits.” Aside from a stamp on the side of each bench that says “Bench In10tions,” their origin is a complete mystery. A Google search will have you back at square one. This anonymous effort is pretty much untraceable.

A bench with the words "Sit Happens" sits outside Cardamom restaurant on June 7, 2021. (Meredith Bruckner)

Molly Ging, the owner of The Little Seedling on Stadium Blvd., remembers getting a text from her store manager when the bench arrived.

“My manager sent me a picture of this bench and was like, ‘What’s this?’ and I had no idea,” said Ging. “The cost of lumber is at an all-time high and I was like, ‘Why is someone dropping this off?’”

Two days later she went to pick up food at No Thai! on Plymouth Rd. when she bumped into the owner of Cardamom, whom she knows, and, lo and behold, a bench was outside his establishment, too.

“He said, ‘I have no idea where that came from,’” said Ging. “His said something different on it. So then I thought, ‘This is weird.’”

Dairy Queen on Packard St. got a bench, too. (Meredith Bruckner)

That same day, she posted on a local Facebook group asking if anyone else had seen them. The response was overwhelming, with sightings and photos posted by business owners and customers across town.

Even The Beer Grotto in Dexter got its own bench, said Ging.

“The thing that I’m just thrilled to death about is that, with the exception of Moosejaw, it seems to be in front of locally owned stores,” said Ging. “That’s when I was like, ‘This is really cool. Someone is trying to do something mysterious and very local.’”

Another business owner told Ging they had heard there were 70 benches in total spread out around town.

A bench sits outside Anneke's Hair & Co. on Main St. in downtown Ann Arbor on June 7, 2021. (Meredith Bruckner)

“We know nothing,” said Curtis Sullivan, co-owner of Vault of Midnight on Main St. “We know that the bench arrived and that people are using it. We noticed that some cool pins and stickers subsequently showed up on the bench over the last few days.”

“None of us can figure it out,” said Lisa McDonald, owner of TeaHaus in Kerrytown. “I looked it up and there’s nothing that I can find on Facebook or Instagram or anywhere.”

Aside from the strange joy they bring, business owners are now wondering -- what do you do with them?

“It’s really, really cool,” said McDonald. “I just hope no one steals them because they’re really cute. Do I bring it in at night? Because it’s not really mine.”

A bench reading "Bench Friends" sits outside Vault of Midnight in downtown Ann Arbor on June 7, 2021. (Meredith Bruckner)

Both RoosRoast locations received a bench sometime last Wednesday. General manager Sarah Douglas thought it was just another one of owner John Roos’ artistic projects.

“I have no idea where they came from but I love them,” said Douglas. “We have a bench very similar to it, but I really thought it was our bench and I thought John had just written on it to be funny.”

After such a difficult year under the cloud of COVID, particularly for small businesses, Ging said she is touched by the gesture.

A bench sits near Crazy Wisdom Bookstore & Tea Room on Main St. in downtown Ann Arbor on June 7, 2021. (Meredith Bruckner)

“Especially after the year we’ve had, it’s so nice to have something fun and mysterious that just brightens the day,” said Ging. “We’re tucked so far back (from Stadium).

“Unless you have kids, people don’t know we exist. For me, personally, we’re just thrilled and honored that they know we existed and thought about bringing it out to us.”

A bench that reads "Sit Happens" sits outside RoosRoast Coffee on Rosewood St. on June 7, 2021. (Meredith Bruckner)

She hopes the chatter created over the benches reaches those responsible.

“This person needs to get public credit and a ‘Thank You,’” said Ging. “Because it’s super sweet and super fun and it’s perfect for summer. We’re going to Instagram it because we want people to come take a picture with their kids on our bench. It’s kind of like the Fairy Doors.”

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About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.